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Culture a major setback to Maasai women in politics, says Lydia Ntimama

Tuesday June 13 2017
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Lydia Masikonte Ntimama (right) receives her IEBC nomination certificate to contest the Narok County woman rep seat on a Chama Cha Mashinani ticket. She says cultural practices have been a major drawback for Maasai women’s progress in politics. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By RUTH MBULA

Maasai women have made great progress in fighting oppressive cultural practices, says Lydia Ntimama, a Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) candidate for Narok County woman representative.

She says she is happy and encouraged by the progress, adding that the cultural practices have been a major drawback on women’s progress in politics and other spheres of leadership.

Ms Ntimama, who has served as a nominated councillor in Narok, says women in the county and especially from the Maasai community, have come a long way and are now champions in political, social and economic world.

“We were simply meant for our small rural homes. And even in these homes, all decisions were made by the men,” says the daughter of former veteran politician William ole Ntimama.

HUNT FOR VOTES

The CCM candidate has been criss-crossing the county seeking votes from residents with the hope of joining parliamentary politics.

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She hopes to unseat incumbent Soipan Kudate, who is defending her seat on a Jubilee Party ticket.

Ms Ntimama plunged in national politics in the last elections but lost to Ms Kudate.

The two will also be battling it out with Rebecca Tonkei (ODM), the widow of former internal security minister George Saitoti’s bodyguard, Joshua Tonkei, Isele Kuluo of Maendeleo Chap Chap and Margaret Nkumum of Kanu.

CAMPAIGN FREELY

Ms Ntimama, who is confident of winning the seat, says women from the region have come a long way and like their male counterparts, they can campaign freely and address residents, both men and women, freely.

In the past, it was considered a disgrace for a woman to speak in front of men in the Maasai community, not even in her home, says Ms Ntimama.

Ms Ntimama and CCM officials, including party leader and Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, have been addressing huge rallies in different parts of Narok.

CULTURE CHANGE

“A women could not just stand at a public gathering and address people. Not when men were around," she says, adding that she could only be allowed to address such a gathering only when holding grass in her hands.

“If she had no grass in her hands, she could only address the gathering while seated,” says Ms Ntimama.

However, she says in some areas of the county where Maasai culture is still regarded highly, women still have to go through discriminative practices including not being heard.

“Some of the [cultural practices] were just meant to intimidate women, to be barriers to their success,” she says.

MILESTONE

The election of Ms Kudate to the woman rep seat in 2013 was a major milestone in overcoming the oppressive culture.

However, there are those who still hold on to the belief that before a woman is elected into political office, she must first be married.

But Ms Kudate, a lawyer, was elected though she is single, and only married after her election.

Evelyne Aruasa, the Narok deputy governor, has also been an inspiration to girls in the region as she was picked by Governor Samuel Tunai to the position while still unmarried. The two are seeking a second term in the August 8 elections on a Jubilee Party ticket.

The deputy governor has been a strong defender of women's rights and champions education for girls.

She says educating girls gives them an opportunity to be better people in the society.

FGM

Ms Aruasa condemns cultural practices like female genital cutting and early marriages, which are major hindrances in girls' education in the region.

More than 500 girls drop out of school every year because of genital cutting and early marriages in Narok County.

The transition rate from primary to secondary schools for girls is among the lowest in the country.

The ratio of men to women in the region is said to be equal but women are yet to pull their numbers in their favour.

Their numerical strength is yet to be reflected in leadership.

Besides the woman rep, no other woman was elected to political leadership in 2013.

In the Narok County Assembly all 30 elected MCAs are men and 17 women had to be nominated to ensure gender equality.

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